- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2011

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (AP) - AIDS patients and government officials on Friday celebrated the 10th anniversary of a pioneering program that brought AIDS drugs to impoverished South Africans, a program patients credited for saving their lives.

Patients and officials danced and sang in Cape Town’s gritty Khayelitsha area to mark the establishment of a Medecins Sans Frontieres program that showed sophisticated treatment could work and people would stick to schedules for taking a cocktail of drugs in impoverished areas. International experts had questioned that at the time.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, I would call them activist doctors,” said Vuyiseka Dubula of the Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa’s best known AIDS activist organization. “The West or the northern world said we were too poor to treat, they said, ‘They can’t even tell the time.’ To their surprise, we beat them on adherence. We adhere better than they do.”

Khayelitsha resident Thobani Ncapai was losing weight, vomiting and sick with diarrhea in 2001.

“I’m happy to have MSF coming to Khayelitsha,” said 40-year-old Ncapai, one of the clinic’ first AIDS patients. “Otherwise I would not have received this treatment and I would not have survived.”

Giovanni Perez, a provincial government official, said the success of the international medical aid group’s Khayelitsha program is encouraging as South Africa works to step up AIDS treatment nationwide.

In 2009, President Jacob Zuma pledged an ambitious testing and treatment campaign and more vigorous efforts to stop the spread of AIDS. A former health minister promoted beets and garlic over AIDS drugs and questioned the link between the HIV virus and AIDS.

South Africa, a country of 50 million people, has more people living with HIV than anywhere else in the world, with 5.7 million of 50 million people infected.

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